Monday’s Late Show was filled with surprises for those viewers only casually familiar with the Wikipedia entries of guests Vanessa Bayer and Wanda Sykes. Former SNL star Bayer, for example, was so ill with leukemia as a teenager that she got a Make A Wish wish, which, holy crap. (She has a typically sunny story about how her initial wish finally came true at the VMAs, of all places.) And, as for first guest Wanda Sykes, Stephen Colbert expertly drew out the top secret fact that the Emmy-winning stand-up, Black-ish, and Curb Your Enthusiasm star worked for the National Security Agency, where the then contracting specialist had—you guessed it—top secret security clearance.
And while Sykes told Colbert that her job involved mostly acquiring everything from office supplies to the NSA’s favorite privacy-invasion surveillance equipment, the comic said that, even for her, security clearance was no joke. “You give them all of your tax returns!,” prodded Sykes, prompting knowing applause from Colbert’s audience, and a giant, Trump-taunting, open-mouthed smiley face from Colbert himself. Sykes explained that people with top secret clearance can’t carry debt of any kind, lest they leave themselves open to, say, blackmail or manipulation from a foreign power looking to undermine the country by installing a beholden puppet-asset inside the government. Just for an example. (Sykes told Colbert she was flagged during her time at the NSA for buying stereo equipment on credit, which seems a little more stringent than the standard applied to a certain president.)
Sykes was there to promote her new Netflix stand-up special Not Normal, but Colbert, having a former almost-spy in the house, took the opportunity to ask his guest for some inside info. Producing an ominously pyramid-shaped magnetic tchotchke the NSA gifted him after his (still-killer) set at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, Colbert asked Sykes, straight-up, “What are the odds that there’s a recording device in this?” Noting that the gizmo has been sitting on his desk for 13 years now (plus, the batteries have apparently never died, which, c’mon), Colbert didn’t get the reassurance he was looking for, as Sykes told him, “Of course they’re listening to you!” And, yes, the NSA could just use a DVR for most of their Colbert surveillance, but when a historically thin-skinned would-be authoritarian routinely attacks and threatens comedy shows that dare make fun of him, it’s probably best to assume the worst.